NEW YORK — After 13 days of diplomatic fencing between the United States and the Soviet Union, a hearing releasing Soviet spy suspect Gennady F. Zakharov took just five minutes Friday amid routine cases in a half-empty Brooklyn courtroom.
Zakharov was freed under an agreement that called for the "simultaneous release" of American newsman Nicholas Daniloff in Moscow. His appearance in federal court came after one defendant had pleaded guilty on a narcotics charge and before a customs agent had testified in a pornography seizure. But Zakharov's own hearing was anything but routine.
Andrew J. Maloney, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, had spent the morning on the phone to the Justice Department in Washington, as the State Department closely monitored developments in Moscow, where Daniloff was held.
Nothing was left to chance. Maloney had a typed outline which he followed precisely in the normally simple bail hearing and arraignment.
"The defendant's release is conditioned on the prior or simultaneous release of U.S. citizen Nicholas S. Daniloff," Maloney, reading from court papers, said after Zakharov pleaded "not guilty" to espionage charges.
Zakharov, 39, a Soviet physicist employed by the United Nations, was arrested Aug. 23 after he allegedly paid $1,000 to an FBI informant in return for military secrets. A week later, Daniloff, a U.S. News & World Report correspondent, was seized by the KGB in Moscow and charged with spying.
During Friday's proceedings, Maloney handed District Judge Joseph M. McLaughlin a letter written Thursday by Yuri V. Dubinin, the Soviet ambassador to the United States. The prosecutor told the judge that the U.S. government was requesting that Zakharov be released without bail to Dubinin's custody.
In the letter, Dubinin pledged: ". . . I hereby give this court the assurance of my government, and my own, that if Mr. Gennady Zakharov is released to my personal custody, he will be present in the federal courts of the United States at any and all times required by the United States government or by the order of the appropriate United States court, so long as the proceedings in which he is involved are pending.
"I further assure this court that if these assurances are accepted in lieu of bail, Mr. Gennady Zakharov will observe the established geographic restrictions on travel and will not leave the United States without the permission of this court. These assurances are given with the greatest respect for the responsibilities of this court."
As part of the agreement, Zakharov must surrender his passport, call federal marshals once a day and not travel beyond 25 miles of New York City. Just before Zakharov left the courtroom, McLaughlin told him, "If you violate any of the conditions, . . . you would be committing a separate crime of bail jumping."
Nattily dressed in a gray pinstripe suit set off by a gray and red tie, Zakharov could have been mistaken for a lawyer, except that he was flanked by several Soviet diplomats and observed by a crush of journalists. The jury box was filled with reporters and with artists sketching the proceedings.
After Zakharov signed court papers pledging his appearance at future court sessions, McLaughlin approved his release, and Zakharov left the courtroom through a side door with Vladmir Kuleshov, consul general at the Soviet Embassy in Washington and other Soviet diplomats. He had no comment before being driven to the Soviet Union's U.N. mission in Manhattan.
No new court date was immediately set. Zakharov had been charged in a three-count indictment with conspiracy to commit espionage, trying to buy classified military information and attempting to transmit it to the Soviet Union, for which he could face life in prison.
At a news conference immediately after Zakharov's release Friday, Alexander Belonogov, the Soviet ambassador to the United Nations, called for an early end to the confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union over the arrests of Zakharov and Daniloff.
"The sooner all this episode is behind us, the better it will be for the Soviet-American relations," he said.